NK T (NKT) cells expressing the invariant Valpha14-Jalpha18 TCR alpha-chain recognize glycolipid Ags such as alpha-galactosylceramide (alpha-GalCer) presented by the MHC class I-like molecule CD1d. Upon activation by alpha-GalCer, invariant NKT cells secrete multiple cytokines and confer protection in certain immune-mediated disorders. Here we have investigated the role of NKT cells in the development of inflammatory dermatitis in MRL-lpr/lpr mice, which shares features with lupus in humans. Our results show that the numbers Sand functions of NKT (TCRbeta(+)CD1d/alpha-GalCer tetramer(+)) cells, particularly of the NK1.1(-) subset, are reduced in MRL-lpr/lpr mice compared with MRL-fas/fas and/or nonautoimmune C3H/Hej and BALB/c mice. Repeated treatments with alpha-GalCer result in the expansion of NKT cells and alleviate dermatitis in MRL-lpr/lpr mice. Our results indicate that NKT cell deficiency can be corrected by repeated alpha-GalCer treatment and that NKT cells may play a protective role in inflammatory dermatitis of lupus-prone mice.